Air racing is a sport of racing airplanes or any type of aircraft low to the ground over an established course. The planes, which can reach speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour, are typically flown over courses containing waters or empty lands to avoid disasters and losses of lives for pilots and spectators.
The history of the sport is as old as the creation of planes. Manufacturers used to race planes to conduct various safety and performance tests, and the sport’s first organized meet occurred in 1909 in Reims, France. The event, which was produced by regional wine producers to attract tourism, was 6.2 miles long. It attracted pilots from all over the world, including England, Germany and Italy. Pilots were judged in speed, altitude, distance and passenger-carrying events.
Races of this type were carried out until the start of World War I when aerospace resources were diverted. However, the popularity of the sport grew rapidly again after the war, leading to the creation of several air race events and trophies, many that attracted thousands of spectators.
One of the next biggest races to emerge on the scene was The King's Cup. The English long-distance race was established by King George V in 1922 specifically for Commonwealth pilots to spur the development of light aircraft and engine design. The first 810-mile race had an overnight stop. The Pulitzer Trophy and Thompson Trophy were established in the U.S. in the 1920s by wealthy entrepreneurs. The Thompson Trophy, established in 1929, was marked by low-altitude high-speed maneuverability around a closed course, which is similar to modern Red Bull Air Race events. The racing series breaked during World War 2 as aerospace resources were once again diverted, but ran through the 1960s upon its return.
Air racing gained Olympic status and became an Olympic sport in 1936. These events were ceased again in World War II due to the requirement of creating fighter jets by the manufacturers.
Most recently, the biggest event in the sport was the Red Bull Race World Championship. However, Red Bull discontinued it beginning with the 2020 season due to a lack of “outside interest” compared with Red Bull’s many other events around the world. It had hosted 90 races from 2003 through 2019. In those races, pilots in single-engine, piston race planes navigated an aerial racetrack featuring air-filled pylons in the fast time possible incurring as few penalties as possible. Penalties could be flying too low or air, hitting a pylon or exceeding maximum G.
Winners of air race events are typically chosen on the following criteria:
• The shortest time taken to complete the course.
• Completing the course with the most points.
• Coming closest to the estimated time.